For a leisure activity/sport that underwent such a massive rise in popularity across Western countries over the past 20 years, the current financial situation has slammed the brakes on new projects, and seen a slump in memberships and appetite for golf course properties.
New residential golf developments in the U.S. are few and far between, leading to a net standstill in golf-course openings generally. More courses closed than opened in both 2006 and 2007, according to the National Golf Foundation, a sharp contrast to the course-building boom that started in the 1990s
[ad#125-right]Even top-drawer designers are feeling the pinch. “I’ve got quite a few projects in the U.S.,” Mr. Nicklaus told me recently, “but they have all kind of slowed down or are on hold or are kind of waiting until the economy turns a little bit.” Tom Doak, the celebrated designer of Pacific Dunes in Oregon and Cape Kidnappers in New Zealand, doesn’t lack for work but in recent months has seen two of the courses he designed struggle: St. Andrews Beach in Australia is closed and for sale, and Beechtree in Maryland will shut down in December.
The recreational property market needs some reinventing. Golf courses are expensive, high maintenance playgrounds for adults, and they will continue to have vast appeal for people with disposable income. But even the successful golf developments will need to re-examine their marketing strategies in light of the recent global financial mess and the shock waves that will follow. The demographic that has fueled the industry to date is starting to age and golf is becoming less of a priority. Some say that this has happened already in clientele for the Ski Resort industry – well, surely golf would be next. The wave of baby boomers has moved through suburban housing, active recreation, and will now move through the leisure recreation activities as well. Perhaps this is why communities such as Castlegar see future in a Gaming Center – as this may be the high valued recreational activity of the Baby Boomers.
On top of the market and demographic issues, there are the environmental ones to contend withas well. Traditionally golf courses are known for high consumption of water and excessive use of pesticides and fertilizers to ensure that the greens remain green. This is a business model that is becoming less acceptible and golf courses are responding with recycled water projects and turf management schemes to reduce their impact on the environment.
Considering these challenges, is there hope for golf courses in the future?